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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Laid-Off Dad makes a good point: even though Christmas is about being together with the people we love--and not Santa--when Toddler in Chief gets to school, his Santa-believing friends will have an influence on his beliefs. Not only that, by avoiding Santa and the commercial aspect of the holidays, I don't want to deprive TIC of the sense of wonder that surrounds Christmas and this most wonderful time of the year.

Being in frosty Buffalo surrounded by family and snow-covered everything defines the holidays for me. We've been singing songs as Grammy plays the piano, wrapping gifts, rearranging the tree ornaments, preparing for a marvelous feast, and making crafty things. This is the good stuff I want TIC to associate with Christmas. I know I won't get the final say on what he believes--and regardless of what he thinks about Santa--I hope these events will linger in his mind, as they will in mine.

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OK, the alcoholic crack went a little overboard. I'm sure that right now America's shopping malls are filled with avuncular, portly, nonpedophilic gentlemen who are generating vital revenue streams and getting paid peanuts for it. But when you look at the idea of selling your kid on Santa Claus, there are just too many red flags:

  • It's a bad message. Don't be good for the sake of making the world a better place. Be good because the amount of crap you get at year's end depends on it.
  • It's an empty threat. Is there a parent out there who actually would put a lump of coal in his kid's stocking? Is that person's last name Stalin?
  • It's invasive. How are your kids supposed to sleep soundly when old men, or large rabbits, or tooth fairies are always committing B&Es?
  • It's a lie. What happens when your kid finds out it's all a big joke? Ha-ha! Remember how petrified you were all year because you thought Santa might stiff you? Sucker!
  • It's potentially disturbing. Worse still, what if your kid doesn't figure it out? If I told my son that an old man with a herd of flying caribou slides down every Christian chimney in the world in one night, and he didn't call me on it, I'd start to worry about him.

My children are city kids, so I have to know that they're savvy enough to survive here. And they have to know that our deadbolts will keep out the riff-raff.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Even though the calendar tells us this is the week to write about Santa, it's a terrible time for me. I am so deep into Year-End Fatigue—from the stores that blast Christmas carols before Halloween, to the tramplings on Black Friday ("On your mark. Get set. Kill each other!"), to the nonstop urgings to BUY BUY BUY, to the myriad social obligations, to the sociopaths down the street—that I've begun romanticizing the Amish.

The challenge is not to let my jaundice color my sons' sense of wonder about the whole holiday season, because kids deserve a chance to love Christmas as much I did when I was young. We've been all around the city, looking at the lights and decorations and the awesome train diorama at the Citigroup Center, and we've played up how we all get to fly on a plane and go see Grandma and Grandpa. We also light Advent candles every morning and dance around to Christmas carols every night.

But as far as we're concerned, Santa is a pointless myth. So even though Son1 knows about him through his friends at school, we're not emphasizing him all that much. We'll exchange gifts because we're family and because we love each other. Who would want anything from an underemployed alcoholic in a cheap red suit?

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Kids are inundated with marketing and advertising. And pushing Santa onto kids really just reinforces a gimme-gimme lifestyle. Because really, Santa equals commercialism. Tell the old guy in the red suit what you want and you'll get it, as long as you've been good and nice. That is most definitely not the spirit of the holidays. In our family, Christmas is about being thankful that we have each other and that we are together.

And so how did the spirit love and family and thankfulness get all mixed up with the spirit of spending? Or the spirit of getting? Or become the story of a man who travels the world in one night on a sleigh? Sure it's fun to pretend, but why is it wrong for kids to know that their parents give them presents? It feels good to give and that's why we do it. That seems like a fabulous lesson to teach kids.

We don't ignore Santa because there are many wonderful, entertaining stories, like The Polar Express. And, there's a great lesson to be learned from the Grinch: "It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!...Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more."

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Friday, December 16, 2005

After the wave of e-mail I received in response to my last post, it is clear that my next goal must be to write a book: Pee-rotechnics: Potty Training and the Dramatic Arcs. Naturally, the NYTimes Book Review will hail it as a “rollicking tour-de-force that effectively silences all uretic debate,” and the resultant buzz will bring the inevitable book tour and instructional DVD. If I am to sign over movie rights, though, I will have to demand some casting control. The actor playing me will have to endure rigorous training to re-create these urinary feats. If you use CGI, it somehow just doesn’t feel as real.

It’s a pretty common instinct among parents to wheedle, bribe, coerce, or do anything else they can think of in order to excise diapers from the daily schedule. And it’s too bad that some parents who’ve done all the right things—bought the dog dish, read the book, shown the DVD—still feel stigmatized when their kids are in diapers at 3½. Parents can have some influence over the process, but ultimately it’s the kid’s decision. In our case, our son merely decided on his own that the Wet Crotch lifestyle was vastly overrated, and that he was happier when his boys were dry.

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The morning "Pee-lympics" were successful for LOD, but for the token willy-less woman in this household, I'm not equipped with the proper tools for such a workshop. Father in Chief is long gone by the time my later sleeper's crusty eyes open, leaving me to less acrobatic encouragement, positive reinforcement, and bribery.

I'll be the first to admit (and I already have) that my candy-reward system might backfire. And no, M&Ms aren't the best food for a kid. But I'm hoping to follow in the footsteps of the moms that I know who've survived potty-training. I'll eventually switch to yogurt-covered raisins and then to plain old raisins--hopefully without much fallout--as they did.

If we're still in training six months from now, it will be frustrating. But I'll be encouraged by the fact that we will have laundered significantly fewer cloth diapers and dumped significantly less trash in the landfills as my non-training counterparts. Plus, I know he's capable. As Kdubs says, "if a kiddo can do it for a bribe, then they're ready."

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ah, the "ticking time bomb" scenario. Ours was a 12-day strike that ended during a lovely dessert reception where Toddler in Chief's heart surgeon was giving a presentation. We spent nearly his entire speech in the restroom cleaning poop out of TIC's armpits and ankle-fat.

Fond memories aside, doesn't sound like LOD fought many potty battles since his kid was trained at 28 months. Don’t know if it was the cloth diapers, luck, or effective bargaining tools. If your kid doesn't show interest by three or (gasp) four, then be more proactive. You could be holding your child back. Many preschools don't take kids that aren't toilet-trained (no pull-ups allowed!), and your child could miss out on fun stuff, like Ikea kids-land where toilet-trained kids over 36" can climb and play (while parents shop child-free).

Danigirl wrote that early potty-training might not be "respecting your child's wishes and abilities." If we respected all of TIC's wishes, he would eat only ice cream, wear only PJs, and endlessly watch Blue's Clues reruns. As for abilities, I'd bet most three- and four-year-olds can tell when their body needs to eliminate waste. Sadly, disposable diaper manufacturers have convinced parents that it's normal to have big kids in diapers (it's good for business!). Does it come down to convenience? It is easier to let your kid dirty a diaper when you're at the zoo or Costco, a mile from the closest restroom.

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I can't get behind setting arbitrary deadlines just because you don't want to be "one of those parents." (Which, btw, hopefully sounds more derisive than you meant it.) It's great if it works, I suppose, but what if 6 months go by and TIC's progress stalls? It could be hard not to show your frustration, which could make TIC feel bad about himself.

I also can't say I like the bribery system, either, because TIC might 1) come to expect a reward for every little thing he accomplishes and/or 2) spend a lot of time hopped up on processed sugar.

Instead, I suggest a third option that I think helped a lot. When Son1 was around 18 months old he started following me into our tiny bathroom every morning, and we convened extensive workshops on the great art of Peeing Standing Up. Naturally, it was all about trick shots, including:

  • the Tub-Stander
  • Blind Man's Bluff
  • the Kneeling Bishop
  • the Beanbag Juggler
  • the Backward Stand-Over
  • Downward Facing Dog

... and so forth. I was the Harlem Globetrotters of Urine, a gold medalist in the Pee-lympics, and I think Son1 started doing it on his own purely for the fun of it. Granted, our budget for cleaning products doubled over that span, but it was worth it.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

I've almost reached my diaper-changing limit. Toddler in Chief is 2 ½ years old, and I'm determined to not be one of those parents with a diaper-wearing three-year-old. Just because Pampers makes diapers in size 4T and 5T doesn't mean that four- and five-year-olds should be wearing diapers.

So I've decided that TIC's ready to use the potty--I'm not waiting around for him to decide because who knows how long we'd be waiting. Think about it. What's in it for the kids? When you crap your pants, you don't have to stop playing. They just do their thing until a grown-up is offended with the odor and forces them to the changing table. My epiphany came after trick-or-treating exposed TIC to the perfect potty-training tool. So I filled a small glass jelly jar with M&Ms. I explained that if he peed in the potty, he would get to choose one M&M. Poop gets two M&Ms! Since this reward system was introduced, he uses that potty at least five times a day. He can't wait to sit on that potty, flush the fruit of his labor, and be rewarded.

He cannot take his pants off by himself, but he's a smart kid and I know he's capable of mastering this task, even if he doesn't necessarily want to.

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Ah, toilet training. The holy grail of new parents. Changing diapers is almost a joy during those first few months, when all you contend with are little, odorless puddles of breastmilk poo. Then their first solid food poisons the well, and parents begin to know stink. Then, during a growth spurt, there is no excrement for days. Mama and Daddy fret as the little nibbler becomes a ticking time bomb, each day exponentially more fraught with tension. And then it happens, the inevitable detonation that erupts with such force that all neighboring fabrics are saturated, possibly during an elegant social occasion.

From that moment on, parents dream of when the Odyssey of Excrement will end, and they are compelled to pursue any avenue that might bring about this end as soon as possible.

For the most part, kids toilet train themselves when they’re good and ready, based on their individual makeup. But we decided the best way to speed the plow was to make the diaper lifestyle as uncomfortable as possible by using bulky cloth diapers, which are fine to sleep in but are a bitch for walking. I don’t know if it’s related, but our boy’s been out of diapers since he was 28 months old.

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